Thibault Dousson, general manager at Lenovo South Africa, discusses whether we are on the hybrid workplace track and what it will take to make this a success.
Events of the past 20 months have upended the world of work, with far better outcomes than we could have predicted. Much to the surprise of many employees and employers, productivity wasn’t generally affected – in fact, Lenovo’s recent Future of Work research found that 67% of employees and IT teams believe their company’s productivity had improved with a remote work situation.
Thanks to technology, we were also able to find new ways of collaborating and innovating that weren’t dependent on in-person interaction. It soon became clear that we could be on the verge of a permanent transition – where the workspace was more of a concept and less of a physical place.
Now, as our vaccination rates rise and our infection numbers fall, more companies are opening their office doors again and people are returning to their desks, either full time or part time. For many organisations and employees, though, it’s a time of limbo.
Having seen the many benefits of WFH, yet also witnessed its pitfalls (such as a less cohesive company culture), some businesses remain undecided on what their future workspace will look like.
Admittedly, Covid-19 is an unpredictable beast, but companies like Deloitte and Nedbank, for example, have confidently drawn their lines in the sand and declared that they are moving towards a hybrid work model permanently.
And as for the employees, Microsoft’s Work Reworked research initiative found that South Africans would like to spend 42% of their time outside of the traditional office setting.
The question, of course, is what does this hybrid scenario look like? And how do we make it a success, realising that we are being given a great opportunity here to reinvent what the workspace looks like?
Co-create your hybrid workplace with your employees
Hybrid is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Because of its very nature, hybrid lends itself to many possible versions, which is really its primary appeal. Should your company opt for two days a week in the office? Or perhaps mornings at the office and afternoons at home? Should people have their own desks or can they hot desk?
Companies need to decide individually what kind of hybrid work situation will work best for them – and for that they need employee input.
Create opportunities for employees to share their thoughts around what kind of work situation would work best for them, what they enjoy about working remotely, what they feel is unconstructive about being at the office full time, and vice versa. These inputs can take various forms – anonymous polls, group discussions, or one-on-one chats. If hybrid is going to work, then those who work in your company need to help shape it.
Also bear in mind that some employees may not want to go hybrid, and may prefer to work from the office full time. Working from home is not for everyone, and it definitely brought on its fair share of mental challenges during the pandemic.
And, of course, the nature of some roles mean that some employees don’t have the option of going hybrid and may have to work from the office full time.
Get the best of both worlds
Another factor to remember when putting together your hybrid work policy is to ensure that you combine the best aspects of both remote working and the physical office. For example, remote work gives flexibility, where employees are able to fit in things like doctor’s appointments, fetching kids from school, or going to the gym.
Many people also find working from home means they can focus better on tasks without interruption. Working at the office, on the other hand, gives people better accessibility to one another, and work issues can be addressed in the moment. Importantly, company culture is also often moulded by in-person interactions, being formed in the spaces between when the work happens.
So, whether people are in the office or working remotely, make sure they are engaged in tasks that get better results in that particular environment.
Put boundaries in place
An important element of implementing a hybrid work policy is to clearly set out boundaries and communicate these to your employees. Just because hybrid work presents employees with more flexibility, it doesn’t mean that it is unstructured. Like any business policy, there are guidelines that need to be followed for hybrid work to be successful.
And I think that, after the past two years, most people need as much certainty as they can get, so something as simple as work schedules can help employees feel more at ease, knowing what is expected of them.
Use tech as an enabler
Finally, a key ingredient of a successful hybrid work arrangement is having the right tech and using it to its full potential. Tech was the engine behind the work-from-home era, but as much as it facilitated our experience it also showed us where the gaps were.
Businesses will need to invest strategically in a smarter work experience, as our devices become the connective tissue of a work-life ecosystem.
New technologies will make the new hybrid workspace very different from our traditional offices. Considerable thought will need to be given to how companies can help make their employees’ switch from home to office and back again seamless and intuitive in terms of the technology they use. Security of data must also continue to be a priority.
Hybrid work is by no means a simple solution. It will be a learning curve, as we will need to acquire new skills, change our mindsets, and adjust to a different normal. But it’s definitely an exciting possibility for South African businesses, big and small, and will reap benefits for both employers and employees. I look forward to seeing how it evolves over the next year.
- By Thibault Dousson, general manager at Lenovo South Africa